Have you thought about how much you will be using your voice as a new teacher - day in day out, in all weathers and in a whole range of physical, acoustic and emotional environments. And as any experienced teacher who has ever had a voice problem will know: no voice, no job. Odd then, that unlike actors, teachers generally receive very little voice training. But there are some things you can teach yourself.
FOR A HEALTHY VOICE...
- Stretch, hum and hiss before work.
- Stretch up and wave the arms from side to side to raise the ribs and open the chest.
- Exhale then breathe in deeply on the recoil.
- Exhale slowly to ‘ssss’ then ‘shhh’ then ‘zhhh’. Imagine your lungs filling from lower down like balloons. Feel the rib cage expand further with each new intake of breath.
- Hum gently to ‘mm’, feel the vibration in the upper chest, throat, nose and chest. Start off very quietly, gradually increasing volume. Let the hum fill your mouth like a drink. This will warm the muscles powering the vocal folds safely, and help increase resonance. Best place for this is in the shower, or as you drive to work.
- Practise vocal slides up and down on ‘ng’ to eliminate pitch breaks.
- Energise the articulators with a few tongue twisters. Repeat rapidly, about six times each: Mixed biscuits, Rubber baby buggy bumpers and Peggy Babcock.
- Stand tall - shoulder blades sloping down the back, head comfortably balanced at the top of the spine to increase breath support and give both you and the class the reassuring feeling that you are in control.
- You will not feel or convey confidence by standing in a ‘sag’ position. Claim your territory in the classroom and walk forward, leading with your legs, not your chin.
- Remember to breathe (sometimes we forget) - allow yourself to breathe deeply and easily before you have something important to say. Big breaths generate volume, enabling you to power the voice from lower down, keeping tension away from the throat. Think of speaking from the belly rather than your neck. Be focused on where you are sending the sound.
TO PREVENT PROBLEMS AVOID
- Smoking, or cut down if you can
- Excessive consumption of alcohol, caffeinated tea, coffee, fizzy drinks (they dry you out)
- Medicated lozenges that kill pain - (pain is telling you to stop talking); suck non-medicated pastilles instead
- Heavy/spicy meals last thing at night (can cause indigestion and acid reflux, which inflames the vocal folds)
- Dairy products which can cause over-production of mucous around vocal folds
- Talking above background noise or yelling in excitement (causes strain)
- Talking in a whisper when your voice starts to go (folds are held in tension and the problem is made worse)
- Clearing your throat unnecessarily or as a mannerism (smacks the folds together, increasing mucous production, which makes you clear your throat again).
These may include breaks in the voice (sudden stoppages), unexpected changes of pitch (voice all over the place), changes in vocal quality (hoarseness), changes in the body (sore throat), increased effort to talk (voice tires easily), regular loss of voice, and a sensation of lump in the throat (usually emotional tension).
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
- Voice rest - stop talking when you get home
- Body rest - relax - take steamy baths
- Steam inhalations to moisten the back of the throat, and ease pain
- Gargle with boiled, cooled salty water to reduce pain and fight infection
- Hydrate by drinking lots of water (1.5 litres/day)
- Early nights
- Take time off to allow inflammation or swelling of the vocal folds to subside.
Phyllida Furse is voice coach and development officer of the Voice Care Network UK
There’s No Need To Shout, by David Wright, published by Nelson Thornes
More Care For Your Voice, published by Voice Care Network UK
To see vocal folds in action, visit YouTube and search for ‘transnasal endoscopy’.
Voice Care Network UK offers a range of INSET workshops on voice care and voice skills
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